New Poetry Blog

I just want to let people here know that yesterday I started a new blog, which will be dedicated to (my) poetry only.  I will continue to post here occasionally about my book, Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days.  I hope that people will “stop by” and have a look.

http://dreamerssongs.wordpress.com/

New Poem–”Jacksonville”

Jacksonville

(for Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin)

Glory’s in the glove-compartment:

your little American legends

brandished in banal

Floridian night,

under filling-station floodlights,

upon overtended lawn.

 

Take your damned flags and crosses

down; these nights

those children walk alone, not

comprehending, still hearing music,

still trying to get home.

Holding Breath/Kindle Countdown Deal

The “Kindle Countdown” promotion for my book, Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, just started today (I swear I didn’t remember until this morning when the alarm I’d set for it on my phone a few weeks ago went off!). I’ve never done one of these before, so it should be interesting.

In any case, the ebook is usually $3.99. At the moment (2/15/2014) it’s 99 cents; the price goes up in increments over the next few days. If anyone is interested, here’s the link:

More on the “Symbolism” (and Downright Cruelty) of Dove-Release, Pigeon-Racing, Etc.

I’ve written a number of posts here about the careless cruelty involved in the “sport” of pigeon-racing, and in the release of white doves or pigeons to commemorate a “special occasion.”  Here’s another example of what happens to those beautiful and innocent “symbols”–in this case, right after they were released by the Pope.  The birds who were attacked were able, in this case, to escape the grips of the crow and the gull, but, as the article says, “Their ultimate fate is unknown.”

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/01/27/angry-birds-popes-peace-doves-attacked/?hpt=hp_c3

Please find other ways to symbolize love and peace at your wedding or other occasion. Whether trained or not, pigeon or dove, released birds are subject to all kinds of danger and suffering–attacks by other birds, starvation, dehydration, drowning, cruel treatment by people who may take advantage of their docile natures, etc.  I would not be able to sleep on my wedding night knowing that I’d exposed fragile and innocent birds to such things, regardless of what any “professional dove releaser” told me.  Sending a creature out into harm’s way says nothing to me about love or peace–just the opposite, in fact.

A Holiday Excerpt From Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days

I have a shadow of a memory of going out with David to buy a Christmas tree one cold, overcast afternoon in December.  We’d been sitting in the apartment, spending a weekend day in the usual way, when I decided that we had to get a tree for the apartment, and that we had to get it right away.  David, always game for anything that would give him a chance to regain his bearings in a world in which simple little pleasures like holiday traditions were permitted and possible, followed me out the door and over to Essex, where we picked out the tree, and then helped me carry it back home.  It would have had to have been a fairly small one, but I would have insisted that it be real so that the apartment would smell like Christmas.  I seem to remember that David was too tired by the time we got home to help me decorate it with the cheap ornaments and lights that I’d bought in the discount stores on Delancey Street, and instead sat on the bed watching me do it with that happy, bemused little expression on his face as I hung ornaments and no doubt chattered on about Christmas.  It was important to me that he at least have a tree for Christmas.

I was obligated to spend Christmas Day with my family in Connecticut, as I did every year, but David and I did spend Christmas Eve together.  We’d spent the day on Suffolk Street, doing whatever it was that kept us happy and occupied back then.  In the evening we went to my mother’s apartment in Peter Cooper Village for dinner.  David was nervous; we all were.  He wanted to make a good impression.  It had been, I think, a long time since he’d made a good impression on anyone other than me.

When we arrived, my mother was watching a show about tuberculosis on T.V.  For a few minutes, we all just watched.  No one knew what to say, or had the sense to turn it off.  Other than that, the evening went fairly well.  My mother gave David a green button-down shirt as a Christmas gift.  (Years later, my mother told me that she’d worried about eating from the plates and using the utensils that David had used afterwards.  I was shocked to hear it, even thought that kind of thinking wasn’t at all unusual at that time.  Still, I was, and will always be grateful that she invited him to dinner that night.)

On New Year’s Eve I know that I was with him.  I remember the apartment being dim and vaguely festive, still scented with the pine-smell of the tree, lit either with candles or Christmas lights, or both.  Late that night I sat on the bed and tried to call one of my favorite clients, a very young gay man named Jon, who was blessed with the most loving, supportive family I’d encountered in my time working with people with AIDS.  His father answered, and told me that Jon was either sleeping or in the hospital–I don’t remember which.  Weeks later, I learned that Jon had actually died several weeks earlier.  His father didn’t want to upset me on New Year’s Eve.  The family had come to think of me as a friend, as Jon had.

Other People’s Books–#2: A Soul’s Calling

Here’s the next entry in my recommendations of “indie” books that I’ve read and loved and would like to recommend to my readers here.  The book is A Soul’s Calling, by Scott Bishop. If you’re interested in travel, adventure, or spirituality (or–if you’re like me–all three), this is the book for you, particularly if you’ve ever wondered what it would really be like to make the trek to Mt. Everest’s base camp (you will no doubt be surprised in many ways).  Here’s my review:

“‘I couldn’t put it down’ is kind of a cliche among book reviews, but I read A Soul’s Calling in a quick two days. The book is a memoir about a man who does what “conventional wisdom” (something I’ve come to pretty much despise) would advise him strongly against, and challenges himself to fulfill a spiritual imperative (HIS spiritual imperative–he never tries to force his spiritual vision on the reader, or on those with whom he comes into contact) by making what may be considered a kind of pilgrimage to the Everest Base Camp. He is guided by visions and communication with spirit in various manifestations; one of the most beautiful elements of the book for me was his personal, loving, respectful relationship with the natural environment, which for him is also a manifestation of spirit.

The author makes no apologies for his relationship with/belief in the “spirit world”; it is simply part of HIS world, and he wishes to use his ability to interact with it for the benefit of all beings (and, again, he considers things like the mountains he approaches, the sun and moon and stars, rocks, and all the natural gifts of the earth as “beings”). This may make some readers uncomfortable, or skeptical, but those feelings should not be used to judge the quality of A Soul’s Calling. A reader with an open mind and an eye for good writing should find a lot to love in it. Even if one isn’t “into communication with spirits”, the descriptions of the people and landscapes of the Himalayas, and of the tortuous journey to Base Camp, as well as the wonderful knowledge that there are still people out there who are willing to flout conventional wisdom for something that they believe is truly meaningful, make A Soul’s Calling worth reading.” 

Here’s the link to the book’s Amazon.com page:

Other People’s Books–#1: Only Shot at a Good Tombstone

I’m going to take a break from my regularly (or irregularly) scheduled discussions of my books and make some recommendations in the next few posts about some “indie” books that I’ve read, and loved, in the past year or so.  I’ve mentioned a few here before, but they’re worth mentioning again. (And there’s still time to get them as holiday gifts; I assume that they’re all eligible for the Amazon “MatchBook” promotion, which allows you to buy the Kindle version of a book for a significantly reduced price–usually 99 cents, and in some cases free–if you buy the print version.  One for you; one for a reader you love.)

The first book I’ll mention is Only Shot at a Good Tombstone, by Robert Mitchell.  I LOVE this book.  Robert is one of the best writers I know; he loves Kerouac and Salinger and Joyce and Steinbeck, and it shows.  Tombstone is definitely (and refreshingly, these days) not a light, frothy beach read; it requires a reader’s attention, and rewards it. Yet it’s unfailingly entertaining and thought-provoking and just downright wonderful (did I mention I love it?).  I was thinking just last night that it’s a book about a hero’s journey, albeit a decidedly unconventional one.

Here’s the review I wrote of the book a while back:

“As I read Only Shot at a Good Tombstone, I kept thinking about how I could possibly describe it to anyone else. On one of my Goodreads updates early on, I said something about how reading it was a little like getting on a ride at an amusement park, and having no idea what the ride would be like, and then finding yourself “hanging on for dear life” as the ride takes you to all kinds of unexpected places. I stand by that description.

If you’re the kind of reader who needs a conventional story-line, unfailingly upstanding and “respectable” characters, and tidy answers in order to enjoy a book, OSAAGT probably isn’t for you. There is no real discernible “plot” to the book; it simply follows a protagonist known only as the “young man” through a couple of days as he wanders around the smog-choked, chaotic city of L.A, allowing himself to be drawn into one tableau after another. But if you can just allow yourself to be led where the young man takes you, and keep in mind that “real life” doesn’t have any particular plot either (except, perhaps, in retrospect…perhaps), and tends to be more of a long series of encounters that are defined in large part by what you make of them, you should be able to really enjoy the ride.

It’s those “encounters”–each one elegantly detailed and engaging–that make up the book. What binds them all together and keeps the book from being nothing more than a random, piecemeal–albeit remarkably literate and well-written–gathering of scenes, leading nowhere, is the world-view and unfailing humanity of the “young man.” Although a self-described “freak”, his (and the author’s) compassion for every lost soul he comes across during his wanderings (one of the things that he considers “freaky” about himself is his ability to see the beauty in just about everyone), and his easy willingness to care in an unassuming way for others, allows US to see the characters in his world–and, perhaps, our own–as real, significant, and deserving of our attention. Each one of those characters, and his or her circumstances, is fully drawn and remarkable, and each tableau draws the reader in and turns pre-conceived ideas about “types” inside out, so that, perhaps, when she closes the book and goes out into her own world, she will be forced (in a truly positive way) to look beyond those types out there as well. And that can only be a good thing. (I found the character of Harold, a Jesus-like kind of “street prophet”, particularly affecting.)

But there is nothing “boring” about the book, and the author is not trying to hit the reader over the head to make a “point” (although the book is anything but pointless). Every story and encounter is fascinating and often haunting. Only Shot at a Good Tombstone is by turns funny, heartbreaking, illuminating, profane, “obscene” (but not gratuitously so), cynical, shocking, and just plain sweet. As in life, there are no easy answers, and no tidy conclusions, and each situation and character we meet will be affected by what we ourselves bring to it.

Yeah–I kinda loved this book. It’s one of those good, “old-fashioned” books in which the writer can actually write, and thinks deeply about what he’s writing, and is willing to take all kinds of unconventional chances (and has the talent to do so). I believe that it’s what we used to call ‘literature.’”

OK.  Go buy the freakin’ book! :)

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Joschua Beres

Poet. Author. Advocate.

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